Therapy dogs coming to Kent Co. courts

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Kent County courts will be getting some new volunteer staff – of the four-legged variety.

Support dogs will be available to children and special needs adult victims who have to testify.

The new program kicked off Wednesday with an introduction at the courthouse.

Many victims of crime will say the trauma they suffered having to testify about the crime in front of strangers and the person who may have victimized them is nearly as bad as the crime itself.

But now, Kent County is making 24 pooches available to help things a little less terrible.

At the Kent County District Court on the East Beltline, the 61st District and Kent County circuit courts downtown, dogs will be there to provide calming comfort to victims of crime.

“By having the therapy dogs available for them as they’re waiting as they come to court, eventually as they’re in the courtroom that will help them to remain calm, to not see this as a terrifying experience to add to their trauma,” said Kent County Circuit Judge Kathleen Feeney.

Feeney presides in the family division where children often testify.

A dog lover, Feeney was the driving force, even going as far as getting her own dog certified with West Michigan Therapy Dogs who provide the dogs for the courts

Less than a week ago, Public Act 236 went into effect allowing dogs to be used by the courts in Michigan, joining 35 other states that allow the practice in more than 155 courtrooms.

“It’s not just we’re guessing, there’s empirical evidence to support the fact that having dogs there provides this calming influence,” Feeney said.

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